Only 70 seconds remained in regulation when redshirt sophomore forward Zach Ryan’s header found the back of the net to secure No. 4 Stanford (2-0, 0-0 Pac-12) a 2-1 road victory against No. 21 Akron (0-2, 0-0 Mid-American) on Monday night.
With the win, Stanford moved up one spot in the most recent polls, while Akron — a team that eliminated the Cardinal in the NCAA Quarterfinals last season — dropped 18 spots from its No. 3 preseason ranking. Monday’s top-five match was familiar territory for the Cardinal, who entered the game on a five-game unbeaten streak against top-five opponents.
The game-winning opportunity began off a corner from Derek Waldeck. The senior midfielder sent the ball into the box, where it was batted around before being kicked out by the Zips to senior midfielder Jared Gibley. With one touch back into the penalty box, he connected with Ryan, who headed the ball off the post and into the netting for his 11th career goal and fifth game winner.
“As the half wore on we were finding more and more of the brew,” said Stanford head coach Jeremy Gunn. “Coaches can try to come up with great ideas and great set plays, but it all boils down to good deliveries and good finishes and that’s exactly what that was.”
Senior defender Tanner Beason opened the scoring card early for the Cardinal. Following a hand ball from Akron’s Marco Milanese, Beason converted his 12th-career penalty kick, putting the Cardinal up 1-0 (13’).
Akron’s David Egbo scored the equalizer shortly after halftime with a shot that was deflected off Beason and over redshirt sophomore Andrew Thomas (46’). Akron’s offense produced 12 shots, eight of which were on goal, while Thomas gathered six saves on the night.
The most noteworthy save came from freshman defender Keegan Hughes. Akron’s Colin Biros played through to Egbo, who dribbled wide of Thomas to create an opportunity on the open frame. But a heroic save from a sliding 6’ 2” Hughes knocked the ball wide to keep the game tied (71’).
“That was a great attack by Akron,” Gunn added. “They managed to carve through us and Andrew [Thomas] had pushed him wide, but obviously Egbo got the shot off and it was goal bound. It was a tremendous stop by Keegan [Hughes]. You need those moments to go your way.”
The game remained knotted until Ryan’s 89th-minute back-post header, an instant classic for the talented, preseason All-Pac-12 sophomore.
Stanford improved to 30-15-10 all-time against ranked opponents under Gunn, including 23 wins over the last 32 matchups. Against Akron, the Cardinal moved to 2-1-1 since 2015, and 2-3-1 all-time.
“We are always desperate to seek out challenges,” Gunn said. “Two incredible teams played a wonderfully competitive game in an incredible environment. [Monday night] tested our mettle and we demonstrated composure in a tough situation.”
The Cardinal will return to Cagan Stadium for a three-game homestand beginning next Monday against UC Irvine (0-1-1).
Contact Alejandro Salinas at asalinas ‘at’ stanford.edu.